Short on masks and gloves, Maricopa County prioritizes long-term care facilities for distribution

(Courtesy Adobe Stock)
(Courtesy Adobe Stock)

(Courtesy Adobe Stock)

Maricopa County—and Arizona as a whole—is facing a "supply problem" when it comes to personal protective equipment, according to the Maricopa County Department of Public Health.

Personal protective equipment is defined as surgical and N95 masks, surgical gowns and gloves, face shields and any other equipment needed to protect the wearer from exposure to disease.

In response to this need, the federal government has provided 75% of Arizona’s allotment of the Strategic National Stockpile.

“Although helpful, these allocations are nowhere close to what is needed in a community of our size,” said Marcy Flanagan, director of Maricopa County Department of Public Health, in a news release. “To put this into perspective, hospital systems use about 544,000 surgical masks per week. In our three shipments of the SNS, we received a total of 263,480 surgical masks.”

In response to the need for PPE, county public health officials said they have had to make decisions as to how to distribute its limited allotment of the stockpile. Much of the first distribution was sent to acute care hospitals and emergency medical services. As the second and third distributions were allotted to the county, health officials began seeing outbreaks related to long-term care facilities.

There are more than 500 long-term care facilities in Maricopa County made up of skilled nursing facilities, nursing homes, assisted living and hospice. To date, there are 198 cases of COVID-19 among residents and 110 among staff linked to 42 long-term care facilities. Of the residents, which 16% have died and 33% have been hospitalized, according to the county.

“What we have learned from states like Washington is that when a case of COVID-19 is identified in a long term care facility, there is greater risk of severe disease and spread due to the age and overall health of people living in these facilities and the fact they often dine and do activities together,” said Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, medical director for disease control at Maricopa County Department of Public Health, in a news release.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that facilities that identify even one case of COVID-19 should put every patient in isolation precautions—meaning that health care workers have to wear gloves, gowns, masks and eye shields every time they walk into the room of any resident.

“We know from seeing these outbreaks in other communities that this strategy works and it is the best way to control the spread of the virus in these facilities. However, the only way that our facilities can follow these practices is to provide enough PPE for long-term care to be able to follow this guidance,” Sunenshine said. “This is why we have made the decision to prioritize PPE for long-term care facilities that have confirmed COVID-19 cases. We believe our limited supply of masks and gloves will have the most impact in long term care facilities where it will protect the lives of our loved ones who are at the highest risk of severe disease and will also keep them out of the hospital, reducing stress on the healthcare system."

Pennington Gardens, an assisted-living facility in Chandler, confirmed April 8 that the facility had five residents and one staff member test positive for COVID-19, said Amira Fahoum, a spokesperson for the parent company Pennington Gardens.

"Four of the residents were at the hospital being treated for symptoms when tests confirmed the positive results, and the fifth resident received a positive test at Pennington Gardens and has since transferred to a hospice house," Fahoum said in an email. "The team member began showing signs of symptoms and stayed home as a result, later confirming a positive test that was taken offsite. Our hearts go out to the families of these individuals as we work diligently to minimize any spread of the virus within the community."

Fahoum said the company had reached out to state and local health authorities and is following appropriate guidance from the federal, state and local levels.

"We have had stringent precautions in place for the past month which have included allowing only essential visitors and team members to enter, screening of all employees and essential visitors prior to entry, physical distancing within our community, enhanced cleaning procedures, and careful monitoring of all residents for any symptoms associated with COVID-19," she said. "Added precautions to limit any potential spread within the community include: team members are wearing masks at all times while working, along with additional personal protective equipment (PPE) as necessary; all residents are currently being provided services (including meals) inside their apartments for the time being; and all residents are being monitored each shift for fever and any signs of respiratory issues."

Fahoum said Pennington Gardens is "seeking additional resources to ensure [PPE] supplies are maintained."

Maricopa County is accepting protective equipment donations. Click here to learn more.